Functional tumors of the adrenal gland are often benign and produce hormones that cause varying symptoms, which may include virilization or feminization. For instance, aldosteronomas are a form of functional tumor that initiate the overproduction of the hormone aldosterone, and in turn cause high blood pressure and low potassium blood levels. These benign (not cancerous) tumors often require advanced testing such as selective venous sampling, high resolution CT scan, MRI and sophisticated bio-chemical testing, all of which are available at The Lacks Cancer Center. In addition, Cushing's syndrome, a rare disease, may also be diagnosed in conjunction with malignant or benign functional tumors.
Pheochromocytoma tumors are frequently benign (not cancerous), and produce excessive amounts of epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine or dopamine. Symptoms include high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, chest pain, dizziness, abdominal pain, nausea, sweating, panic, high blood sugars and high calcium. Diagnosis of this disease is made by measuring the urine and blood levels for evidence of catecholamine (adrenaline-like hormones). Once a diagnosis is established, it is imperative that the location of the tumor be pinpointed through other specialized studies such as MIBG scans, PET scans or octreotide scans.
Adrenal Cortical Cancer
Adrenal Cortical cancer is a rare form of cancer that accounts for about 1% of tumors seen in the adrenal gland. These tumors are most often greater than 6 centimeters in size, and—because their removal may require the additional removal of adjacent organs such as kidney, pancreas, stomach, colon, or spleen—they should be thoughtfully examined to determine spread. The only hope for long-term survival is the complete removal of the tumor including a small portion of healthy tissue along its margins. When selecting a surgeon and surgical team to perform this complex procedure, it is best to choose a team of experts that have significant experience with these approaches, such as our team at the Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center.
A vast majority of adrenal tumors are found on the adrenal gland during a CT scan or MRI procedure for another condition. The majority of these are benign, however, they require a thorough and thoughtful workup to exclude other conditions related to excessive hormone production, or malignancy. This often involves a bio-chemical assessment and follow-up imaging with a high resolution CT scan or MRI.
Cancers from other parts of the body can spread to the adrenal gland. These tumor deposits are called metastases and behave like the tumor they came from. Most commonly, cancer spreading to the adrenal gland originates as lung cancer, kidney cancer, melanoma, stomach cancer, liver cancer, esophageal cancer or breast cancer. Most metastatic cancers are treated with chemotherapy, but under certain circumstances these cancerous cells can be surgically removed with a chance for cure if the treatment plan is approached with great consideration.
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